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Dorset Police responds to stop and search report

Dorset Police has responded to a report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) that suggests stop and search powers are used disproportionately on certain groups of people in the county.

The publication, entitled ‘Stop and Think’, was released today, Monday, 15 March 2010.

Deputy Chief Constable Chris Lee said: "We are very concerned by this report, which we have seen for the first time today. Recent results show Dorset as consistently one of the top two forces for doing a good or excellent job. In the HMIC’s recent report, the Force was graded as good/excellent in relation to the satisfaction of people from a black or minority ethnic background."

Dorset Police, like all forces throughout England and Wales, makes use of legal powers to reduce and detect crime, but equally adheres to strict standards of fairness and respect while carrying out its duties.

The EHRC report relies on year-old statistics from 2007-2008, as well as data from the 2001 census – which is almost ten years old.

Communities have changed significantly since then and it is believed that the current street population does not reflect the data included in the 2001 census.

The statistics also fail to include visitor numbers. Dorset attracts 14 million visitor days a year – so it is likely that street populations will differ greatly from the census data.

DCC Lee continued: "Our targeting and monitoring has improved significantly since 2008 and focussed use of the power has resulted in a 16% reduction in the overall number of stop searches this year.

"We have also volunteered to be involved in a national development pilot, called Next Steps, that aims to increase understanding of the use of this power by police forces in more rural environments. This scheme is due to start on Thursday, 1 April."

Between April and December 2009, officers used stop and search powers on 4,735 people. This included 4,172 white people and 228 black people.

This year just over half of all stop and searches on black people occurred in just 3 of Dorset’s 166 beat areas.

This relates to 125 searches conducted in three adjoining beats in the Boscombe area. This is a specific local issue and it is believed that where searches take place in these beat areas that there is a higher proportion of minority groups among the street population.

Officers operate according to intelligence and apply a test of reasonable suspicion.

A recent survey found that over 80% of Boscombe residents perceive that their area has a drugs problem – this compares with an average of 20% in other areas throughout the county.

Half of the searches in these three areas were drug-related and 42% of people searched gave an address outside of the Force area.

Fourteen per cent of searches in this area have resulted in an arrest – this is higher than the 10% that is nationally regarded as an acceptable outcome ratio.

It should also be noted that Dorset Police has only received two complaints regarding stop and search activity during 2009/10.

DCC Lee concluded: "This public concern, along with our intelligence and monitoring, shows that our use of stop and search powers reflect nothing other than the fact that we strive to address the priorities of our local communities.

"Dorset Police takes suggestions of discrimination extremely seriously and we again invite the Commission to visit the Force for a more informed discussion on these issues."